Cardinals wide receiver Chad Williams said it's those "quarter-of-an-inch things" that make the difference in the NFL.
Chad Williams worked out with former NFL star Chad Johnson in South Florida this offseason, a wide receiver known nearly as much for his gift of gab as his penchant for catching touchdowns.
Williams is no wilting flower himself, and he was more than willing to clap back when "Ochocinco" challenged him.
"He talked all day," said Williams, the Cardinals' second-year wideout. "Sometimes he'll look at me and say, 'You can't hang with me.' I'm like, 'Naw, you can't hang with me.'"
The best pass-catchers in the NFL have often doubled as some of its biggest showmen, and if his career goes right, it's easy to imagine the charismatic Williams joining those ranks. But in order to get started down that path, Williams knows he must keep his mouth shut – and it has nothing to do with being humble.
"I'll watch college games, and I see guys coming to the line, lining up and talking trash to the DBs," Williams said. "I'll be like, 'Man, how can you line up and talk?' You can do a little something after the play, but when you're coming up to the line, you don't have time to talk to nobody, because you're so attentive. You're trying to see what the safeties are doing, where the corners are sitting at, is anyone blitzing? It's stuff like that. It's different (in the NFL)."
The 2014 draft produced one of the best wide receiver crops of all-time, as Odell Beckham, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, Martavis Bryant and John Brown made quick impressions. The three subsequent classes have been subpar. Williams, a third-round selection in 2017, is among the many wide receivers realizing it takes more than talent to succeed as a professional.
"It's a different level of technicality," Williams said.
Williams came out of Grambling State a physical specimen at 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds with 4.4 speed, but was often a healthy scratch as a rookie, finishing with three catches for 31 yards in six games. Williams realized he was in a different world during his first week of OTAs, when his best moves didn't faze perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson.
"I was trying to throw everything at him but the kitchen sink," Williams said.
Coach Steve Wilks sees an intriguing skill-set but knows there is work to do, calling Williams "a young guy that's still trying to figure out his way."
The intricacies could make or break Williams. He's still learning how to get leverage on defensive backs, how to master option routes and hot reads. Even when he finds a favorable matchup, the coverage can mutate in a split-second.
"You think, 'Oh, good, I've got this route,'" Williams said. "And then at 'hut' they roll it. It's like, 'Oh, I've got to run this now.'"
While 2017 did not go as hoped, there was a flash of promise late when Williams took a jet sweep 33 yards against the Titans. He showed both speed and power on that play, a rare blend that should give Williams a chance to compete for playing time in 2018.
Williams switched jersey numbers this year, from No. 16 to the familiar No. 10 which has been on his back during all of his previous success.
"Me and 10, we've just got something in common," Williams said. "It's my favorite number. Wore it all through college, in middle school, high school."
If '10' can pick up where it left off at Grambling State, the Cardinals will be ecstatic. Williams knows it will be the "quarter-of-an-inch things" that determine his fate. That's why, after getting middling reviews for his conditioning in training camp a year ago, Williams trained with Ochocinco prior to the Cardinals' 2018 offseason program.
"I'm not coming back here to see (strength and conditioning coach) Buddy (Morris) face-to-face and for Buddy to be my first sprint," Williams said. "No, sir. No way. I was doing a lot of sprinting, a lot of drills, just basically staying tip-top."
It's also why he's not spending time on the extracurriculars – forgoing trash talk at the line scrimmage and refusing to make plans for his first touchdown celebration.
"The goal is to just cross the goalline first, not think about the dance when I get there," Williams said.
Images detailing the four exhibition games on the 2018 schedule